BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister, Charbel Wehbe, made scathing remarks about Gulf countries in an interview late on Monday, blaming them for the spread of Islamic State, comments that could add strain to an already tense relationship.
“Those countries of love, friendship and fraternity, they got us Islamic State and planted it in the plains of Nineveh and Anbar and Palmyra,” Wehbe said in an interview with regional network Al Hurra, referring to parts of neighbouring Syria and Iraq that Islamic State seized in 2014.
When asked if by “those countries” he meant Gulf states, Wehbe said he did not want to name names. But on a question about whether Gulf states had funded the Islamist movement he said: “who funded them then, was it me?”
Prime minister designate Saad al-Hariri expressed disapproval of the comments, saying they could damage foreign relations at a time when Lebanon was facing multiple crises.
Lebanon is in the throes of major economic problems that are posing the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have been reluctant to offer aid to ease Beirut’s economic woes, keeping their distance while alarmed by the rising influence of Hezbollah, a powerful militant group backed by their arch-rival Iran.
In April, Saudi Arabia banned Lebanese fruit and vegetable imports blaming drug trafficking, after it said its customs officials had foiled an attempt to smuggle more than 5.3 million captagon pills, a type of amphetamine, hidden in pomegranate shipments.
“As if the crises that the country is drowning in and the boycott it is suffering from is not enough,” Hariri’s office said in a statement condemning the remarks.
(Reporting By Laila Bassam, writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Robert Birsel)